Navigating the Impact of COVID-19: Advice from School Psychology Faculty with Experience in Administrative Roles

By Lindsay Fallon, University of Massachusetts Boston

In our previous posts this spring, we addressed the general concerns posed by COVID and those specific to research. On May 11, 2020, the SSSP ECF, led by Bryn Harris, hosted a Q&A session for early career faculty to explore perspectives of university administrators who are also school psychology scholars. Experienced department and college administrators answered questions from early career faculty about how to weather this time and what to expect in the months to come. Our panelists were Drs. Beth Doll (Professor and former Dean, University of Nebraska – Lincoln), Randy Floyd (Chair and Professor, University of Memphis), and Amity Noltemeyer (Chair and Professor, Miami University). Below, we synthesize their responses to the questions posed by early career participants.

A note: The panelists recognized that institutions and circumstances vary widely and there is no one-size-fits all approach to working in the context of COVID-19 as an early career faculty member. Therefore, these ideas are intended only as a starting point for reflection, rather than a road map for success.

How can early career faculty advocate for themselves with their administrators to get support for their professional and personal needs? 

  • Be informed and participate in shared governance. If you are able, consider serving on the faculty senate (or other shared governance entity at your college or university). If you are unable to participate in shared governance actively, identify a colleague who can advocate on your behalf. This might be a more senior faculty member in your department who can suggest policy changes or request support to benefit you and other early career faculty members.
  • Be strategic with requests for support when communicating with administrators. Your institution’s administrators may have certain priorities right now, impacting what they can (and are willing) to support. When making a request for support, ask for what you think you need at this moment, acknowledging there may be limited capacity to support your requests. 
  • Be entrepreneurial if you can. Consider strategic opportunities that may benefit you now and in the coming year. An example of this is perhaps applying for a small grant to allow for a course buyout. If funded, this could offer you more time in the coming academic year to devote to other professional and personal responsibilities. 
  • Build relationships with department, college and university administrators and leaders. It is helpful if these individuals know who you are and what you have accomplished. This may be especially important as administrators navigate the next steps of responding to COVID-19 at your institution (e.g., how to address budgetary losses).
  • If time allows, continue to improve your skills. That is, if you’re able, consider spending time engaging in professional development activities (e.g., reading, strengthening statistical skills) to improve your skills as a researcher, teacher, and mentor.

The ramifications of COVID-19 will likely be extensive in all areas of academic work – teaching, research and service. Some universities have offered to stop the tenure clock for one year given these challenges. What things should early career faculty consider when determining whether or not to take this clock stoppage? 

  • Every institution has its own set of traditions around promotion and tenure. Find out when you will have to make any decisions about pausing your tenure clock or delaying tenure. Determine if you must ask for it now or if you can ask for it in a year, two years, etc.
  • Solicit advice from more senior faculty members in your unit. They should be able to tell you if you’re on the right path or if more time might be beneficial to you, considering their understanding of your institution’s guidelines. It may also be helpful to discuss such a decision with college-level leadership.
  • Inquire if and what guidance will be given to external reviewers when considering tenure portfolios in the future. Specifically, you might ask departmental or college leadership if there will be a standard statement made to all reviewers about how to consider tenure packages in light of the impact of COVID-19.
  • Do not feel badly if you’re not your most productive right now. Most people are not being highly productive at the moment. 

As COVID-19 may impact tenure decisions, annual reviews, and general evaluative processes, how might recent or future administrative action impact these processes? How might early career faculty advocate for themselves during these evaluative processes? 

  • Most likely, COVID-19’s impact will be context-specific. That is, there will be variability across departments, colleges, universities, states, etc.
  • Provide contextualization in reviews or review materials to give your Chair (or other evaluator) more detail about the materials submitted for review. Consider explaining changes to productivity or teaching evaluations, and convey how you continue to add value to the unit. 
  • Know the policies of your college and university. If you feel like you’re being evaluated in a way that conflicts with the policy, ask about it, determine your rights, and consider engaging with your faculty union (if you have one). Again, be as engaged as possible in the decision-making at the department and college level to support you and other early career faculty. 
  • Stay optimistic and strong. It is likely leaders will be taking context into consideration, care about the development of faculty, and will want to nurture a sense of goodwill within units.

Early career faculty are concerned about potential pay freezes and pay reductions. Recently, we have seen both of these scenarios become reality at multiple universities. What strategies might early career faculty consider in dealing with these financial challenges? 

  • Pay cuts may be seen in various forms, and this is (and will likely be) highly varied by institution. Pay cuts may come in the form of furlough days, pay freezes, and a reduction of supplemental pay opportunities. The pay cuts may impact administrators and staff in more significant ways
  • If pay freezes occur, they won’t last forever. Continue to think about showing your value, make yourself indispensable
  • Know your limits. Know what you can do and what you can’t do. Don’t be taken advantage of.
  • Know your options. For instance, if you are facing a 25% pay cut, perhaps look around for another position (including outside of academia), or if you’re finding that there are not viable options, consider if you can survive with the cut.
  • Again, be entrepreneurial. Perhaps there are summer teaching opportunities that maybe you didn’t consider before that may be worth pursuing now.
  • When the financial situation improves, you may be able to request support to increase your productivity. This might mean asking for additional graduate assistant hours or research funds (if possible or available).In sum, you picked a great field and there continues to be a need for school psychologists. It should give you a sense of optimism. You have skills as a school psychologist that professionals in many other disciplines do not have. There are always going to be opportunities for school psychologists (both inside and outside of academia).

Early career faculty may be asked to assume additional administrative tasks or an increased load next year and potentially beyond. What advice might you have for early career faculty as they navigate these additional responsibilities? 

  • It is very possible that there will be changes in the future. There may be changes to how we evaluate teaching, research, and service. 
  • If you have increased class sizes, consider how to adjust your teaching to continue to teach with high quality. This may involve being innovative. For instance, if you’re teaching an assessment course in which you traditionally had many protocols or review and grade, consider instead asking students to review each other’s work carefully and then for each student to submit an exemplar for grading. This would reduce your grading load.
  • Start thinking now about how to move your coursework online for the fall (e.g., start locating videos, ancillary materials, online examples). This will help you prepare for distance or hybrid teaching.
  • Think about untapped resources. For instance, consider if you can rely more on undergraduate students and offer an independent study. If you’re able to “delegate” to students, students may be able to learn from the opportunity and it will give you more time to do other tasks.
  • Monitor distribution of service tasks among your unit and advocate for yourself if you feel you are doing more than your share of service.If possible, ask departmental leadership to give you no new course preps in the coming year to protect your time.
  • Expect that this may not be your best year (per teaching evaluations, number of manuscripts submitted for review, etc.). That’s OK. You’ll learn a lot and be able to apply what you learn in future years.

What advice would you give new faculty as they potentially have fewer opportunities for collaboration (research/teaching/service), presenting, professional development opportunities, and travel or internal research funding (among others) while trying to establish themselves and launch their careers? 

  • Take advantage of opportunities to be involved in online conferences and professional meetings. This will require little travel funding and allow you to engage in networking and professional development.
  • Or, perhaps instead of focusing on conference posters and paper presentations, allow yourself more time to spend writing research briefs and/or full-length manuscripts. 
  • Consider if you have contacts or colleagues interested in collaborating on (a) analyses of large existing datasets, (b) systematic literature reviews, (c) policy analyses, or (d) research with undergraduate students. 
  • Consider if there are opportunities to engage in research about the impact of COVID-19 with school partners. Some of the most exciting research comes out of unanticipated circumstances.

What other advice do you have for early career scholars?

  • Not everyone is in the same boat, but we’re all weathering the same storm.
  • Look for allies in other academic units if you’re not being supported in your own unit (e.g., colleagues in social work, teacher education). They may be able to relate to your situation and provide advocacy in your unit, college, or university.
  • If you need to advocate for yourself, use your consultation skills to guide your interactions with administrators (e.g., build rapport, reference facts/data). 
  • Keep an updated CV so that you’re tracking your marketability and prepared for change, if needed.
  • You may see pots of money (e.g., travel funds, indirect funds for a PI) being reallocated for more immediate needs. That is, reallocated funds may be protecting the jobs of more vulnerable university staff, so take that into consideration as you note changes.
  • Access available resources from professional communities. For instance, TSP is archiving guidance and various forums related to supporting faculty in the era of COVID-19. Access these opportunities.
  • Keep moving forward. Be well.

Thank you to our panelists and to everyone who joined us for the session. Do you have comments or questions? Post below.


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